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Ordinary Life Hides Secrets in <i>Far from Heaven</i> - 2002-11-09

Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert co-star in a 1950s style melodrama about relationships and the secrets that can destroy them. Alan Silverman has a look at Far From Heaven.

It's 1957 and Cathy Whitaker seems to have a heavenly life. An upper middle class housewife in the prosperous Connecticut suburbs with bright, cute children and a handsome, successful husband, her main concerns are keeping up their beautiful home and keeping up appearances.

But beneath the surface it's Far From Heaven. When she discovers the secret life of her husband, Frank, Cathy's well-ordered world begins to crumble.

Writer-director Todd Haynes says Far From Heaven is inspired by the classic domestic melodramas Hollywood churned out in the 1950s.

"All of it was so much from an innate fantasy of what the periods were like based on movies. In a weird way I think all of our memories of the past are colored by movies and photographs we've seen of the period or of ourselves as children. I think our memories are altered by images all the time," Haynes said. "The language and style of this is almost part of our emotional vocabulary. You don't realize it, but you grow up watching these movies."

Julianne Moore says Far From Heaven is not a movie about the 1950s, but is in the style of one that might have been made in that era . . .if Hollywood had been bold enough to deal with topics like interracial romance and homosexuality. Although as Cathy she has to deal with some shattering experiences, Moore is hesitant to call her a tragic figure.

"It depends upon how you define tragedy. I like domestic tragedy. It's my metier; it's my favorite kind of tragedy," she said. "There are the great big dramatic ones, but I think the ones that hold our attention are stories about families and towns and the world in which we live. You certainly see her endure the effects of a tragedy. Her life undergoes a metamorphosis, but change is not always bad."

Dennis Quaid co-stars as Frank who gradually realizes that his life with Cathy is a sham.

"It's about living an authentic life and if you're not living an authentic life then you're living a life with a secret, which is what my character is doing. He's filled with shame about himself until he finally admits who he is," Quaid said. "There's no denying it. It's all going to come out eventually."

Writer-director Todd Haynes says the 50's melodrama style masks the fact that the Far From Heaven characters are dealing with very contemporary issues.

"It's about these very ordinary characters. They're not like today's subjects in movies who are almost required to provide a kind of psychological assessment of what they've learned and how they've changed by the end of the film," he explained. "They have to articulate their redemptive closure or whatever. These characters are kind of mute. They are very ordinary people. They are very fragile and they are ultimately moved around by the forces of their culture and succumb to them. In many ways they don't look like us, they don't dress like us, but they're more like us than movies today."

Far From Heaven also features Dennis Haysbert as Raymond, a black single father who becomes Cathy's friend and confidant; but because of the time and place, their relationship sparks scandalous rumors. The film is shot in vivid "Technicolor" style; and the evocative musical score for Far From Heaven is composed by Elmer Bernstein, whose film music career stretches back to the 1950s.